A Season Of Change For Your Pond

A Season Of Change For Your Pond

ll summer long we enjoyed backyard ponds, their lush vegetation and dynamic water falls, and the fish feeding and darting around. Now, with fall's arrival, plants have begun to die back and fish have slowed their movement. Winter's not far ahead, so it's time to prepare your pond for a radical change in conditions, and by doing so, prepare for another season of beautiful plants and fish next year.

There are a number of steps to any pond winterization project, but perhaps the first and most critical is the pruning of plants and cleaning out debris. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but a large, fine mesh net used to remove the debris is a practical and inexpensive solution. Take special care to ensure the bottom is cleaned as well, as this is where the bulk of the debris will have settled. It is especially important to remove leaves and bark as they may cause a toxic environment for plants and fish.

"Plants that go dormant should be removed, all dead foliage pruned and placed at least 6 inches below the waterline," says Bob Clasen, pond expert at In Thee Garden, a division of Southern Oregon Nursery, in Medford. Plants that grow out of the water should be trimmed, leaving a few inches of foliage above the water, so the plants can breathe. Keep the roots of these plants below water, so freezing weather will not damage or kill the plants. Water lilies, including the common Nuphar lutea, should be pruned to the soil line. Place their pots back in the pond at the same water depth they'd been growing in earlier.

It's also extremely important to test the water for pH, salinity and nitrate/nitrite level to ensure pond health in the fall and throughout the winter. During the winter, cold water inhibits the process of decay and slows the digestive process of fish, but this does not mean the water will remain "clean." The lack of plant growth means nitrates will not be removed from the water by the plants, and this can cause a dangerous build-up. Full-service pond stores will have testing kits for pH, salinity and nitrate/nitrite, as well as pond salt to maintain the proper salinity and even cold water bacteria solutions which will assist in maintaining nominal ammonia and nitrate/nitrite levels.

As the water temperature changes, so do the needs of your fish. Throughout the fall, proper feeding is essential. "Fish are fattening up and storing energy for the winter," Clasen says. As a result, the fall diet should be high in protein and calories.

When the water temperature drops below 50 degrees it is time to slow or stop feeding altogether. Fish digestion slows to almost a standstill in these cold water conditions, and feeding can kill fish or cause serious digestive problems. Temperatures can fluctuate during the season though, so checking the temperature can tell you when it is safe to feed. "If (the fish) are still coming to the surface looking for food, you may want to feed them lightly," says Alan Schmaltz, owner of Nui Kai Pets in Medford. It is best to select low-protein foods which are quickly digested, as the water temperature may cool again quickly.

The last thing any pond owner wants, is to see their beautiful fish sick or dying, and it is essential to inspect the fish before winter's onset. Many people remove their fish before winter and inspect them visually to see if the fish have obvious fungal or parasitic infections or other symptoms. "I do not recommend removing fish. Generally you can see ailments or problems (with fish in the water)," says Schmaltz. "Netting fish can damage fins and scales, and shock fish."

A little attention as winter approaches, will go a long way to ensuring a healthy and aesthetically pleasing pond next year. A proper dormant season is part of a pond's cycle of life, followed by a springtime rebirth all can enjoy.

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